Stories of the Genocide: Domitilie
Domitilie breaks down into tears describing how she found the body of her husband Paul, hacked to death near their home in Huye, Rwanda.
Domitilie believes Paul was murdered for his role as judge in the local Gacaca Court. Gacaca (Ga-CHA-cha), which literally means “justice on the grass” was resurrected to try genocide offenders in 2001, with three goals: reconstructing what happened during the genocide, speeding up legal proceedings, and the reconciliation of all Rwandans. But, brutish perpetrators of the 1994 killings and their supporters have threatened the success of the Gacaca system by harassing (or killing) victims and judges.
Genocide Survivor Killed
A genocide survivor, Paul Rutayisire was murdered by an angry gang seeking retaliation in October 2007. After fighting back tears she says, ” Whenever I think of how I found him dead and how they had cut him, sometimes I feel like running mad and running into the streets.”
Despite the dangers, Paul Rutayisire saw the Gacaca Courts as an opportunity to help heal the southern provinces of Rwanda. Domitilie explains “he was a truthful man, he was very just, he liked justice.” Paul was also president of his local chapter of the survivors association “Ibuka,” which means “remember” in Kinyarwanda. Although a leader to many, those who oppose reconciliation and unity saw Paul as a personification of their problems.
Ibuka reports say eight conspirators gathered at a local bar on the night of October 15, 2007. When they saw Paul, they hatched a plan to murder him.
Domitile says she couldn’t sleep the night Paul didn’t come home. Threats of violence and rumors against Paul had been mounting for days. She knew in her gut that he had been killed well before she began searching the streets. Domitile can still recall being the first person to find Paul’s body. He was hacked to death with an axe, the same way 1,000,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed in the genocide 1994. Domitilie asserts Paul’s death was meant to send a political message of intimidation.
Only four of the nine suspects in Paul’s death were given life sentences in Gacaca Court; five were acquitted and set free. Domitile says she wants to find peace, but can’t unless the perpetrators of her husband’s death ask for forgiveness. “We wanted to reconcile but they couldn’t accept. Even now they don’t want to reconcile with us. Instead they are still trying to kill us.”
Feeling Unsafe at Home
Domitilie is left with her 8 children, ranging in age from 2 to 21. Paul’s sister Elisabeth helps, but she lives 20 minutes away up a rutted red dirt road in Huye (formerly known as Butare, Rwanda’s second largest city). After Paul’s murder Elisabeth tried to help Domitlie move her family closer to the sector office for better protection. Elisabeth says local officials refused, afraid that moving the family would scare the neighbors. Despite a government ban on formally identifying Hutus and Tutsis, today she feels unsafe at home and is worried about receiving visitors. She fears her neighbors will infer she is talking about Paul’s murder. She refutes claims that reconciliation works, “In prisons (the killers) accept what they did and they are forgiven, where they explain what they did, people they killed, all the bad things they did. And then they are forgiven and then they are brought back to where they lived, and they do it again. ”
Paul is one of more than 150 genocide survivors to be murdered since 1995, according to Ibuka. In recent years Ibuka data show the killings have increased as more survivors have testified against neighbors who killed their families.
Domitilie speaks passionately saying that many of her neighbors and people around the country are wrong, “They want to show the whole world that there’s peace in Rwanda. But for sure there’s no peace in Rwanda, cause the victims are still in danger. The hands that killed still have the intention to kill once again.”